Learning to scuba dive is one of the best things you can do. Scuba diving opens up an entirely new world that’s surreal, peaceful, and inviting. Scuba diving is the only way you can interact with creatures of the sea in their own environment. At times, diving can feel like you’re an astronaut on another planet (the equipment surely adds to this vibe).
Understandably, learning to scuba dive can be a nerve-wracking experience for some and there is a lot to learn within a course. To leave your course feeling confident and ready to dive on your own, you’ll want to dive somewhere that is reliable and accredited — staffed only by capable and attentive instructors.
Here are a few tips on how to find the best dive school wherever you plan to learn.
Researching Your Dive School
Before you book your course, check the reviews — both positive and negative. Before taking any tour or going anywhere, consult other blogs and browse Tripadvisor to see what the general consensus is for dive centers and schools. If there is a negative review, how does the dive school respond? Was it a problem that was out of their control? Keep your eyes out for anything that sounds like the dive school was negligent or that they are making excuses for shady behavior.
Sometimes, divers complain about things that have nothing to do with the dive school. “There weren’t enough fish…” “We didn’t see a manta ray…” “Something bit me…” are all experiences that have nothing to do with your dive school or instructor, and should just be ignored.
Some major issues that should prevent you from diving with a school are any reviews mentioning losing a diver, taking divers deeper than what their certificate allows, or encouraging the students to touch wildlife. Complains about masks, fins, or wetsuits could be waved off, but faulty regulators, BCDs, or tanks are a big issue.
Scuba diving is a generally safe activity, but it just takes one mistake for things to go wrong.
Every dive school needs to have:
- Accreditation: Always dive with a school that has proper accreditation. Popular accreditation agencies are PADI, BSAC, NAUI, and SSI, though there are many others. There are many pros and cons for certifying with each. You likely want to get one of the more popular training certifications, as they are easier to transfer and more accepted worldwide.
- A low student-to-instructor or diver-to-guide ratio. With most training agencies, this will already be the case. The lower the ratio, the better. You can even request to be put in a course with as few students as possible for the best learning experience.
- Up to date equipment with certificates of when safety checks were last done.
- Enough safety equipment for every diver. Life jackets, a radio for the dive boat, and alarm system should anything go wrong.
- Proof of your instructors/guides accreditation. Most dive associations offer a free online check.
If you can, hold off on booking your course until you see the dive center in person. This isn’t always possible, especially in peak tourism season.
At the Dive School
First Impressions Matter
Walking in to the dive center, do you feel welcome and attended to? If the staff is frantic, looking down at their phone, or chatting with one another instead of with you, these are the first red flags.
You want an attentive instructor and dive staff who take your questions and concerns seriously.
Are there piles of equipment lying around? Does it look overall disheveled? Details matter. If the gear looks like it’s been gnawed on by a pack of feral dogs, it’s probably safe to assume that the center does not maintain the equipment servicing standards.
Never go against your gut instinct, even if the price is appealing. If the price is too low, it could mean that the dive center is cutting corners somewhere. A dive school is expensive one to operate — they often need boats, licenses, property, expensive equipment, staff, behind-the-scenes operating procedures, rent — and these are the basics. Many schools also have to maintain their pools, shower facilities, and marketing schemes. If there are multiple dive centers in one area, they will likely be around the same range. Any cheap outliers should be examined with a critical eye.
Calculating the Cost
Before signing up for a course, have them spell out the total cost of the course. Are there hidden fees not listed on their website? Ensure that your course price will include all equipment, taxes, certification, service charges, and anything else that could be an uncomfortable surprise later on. If you have your own gear, it never hurts to ask for a discount.
Some scuba diving schools have a thriving social scene while others maintain a more relaxed vibe. If you’re a social person or on your own, it could be worth taking your course at a school with a social reputation. Many schools have game nights, dance floors, and an active night scene once the sun goes down — especially in Southeast Asia.
However, you’ll likely be exhausted after your first few days of diving, so it makes sense to have somewhere you can rest.
A good balance is taking your course at a more social school, and staying somewhere away from the chaos.
Planning Your Dive Sites
If you’re inflexible on time but really want to see a particular site, ask to see a tentative schedule of where you’ll be diving. For example, if you are going to Nusa Lembongan solely to see manta rays and have a strict timeline of when you’ll be there, it doesn’t make sense to dive with a school that won’t be diving at the manta ray site during your stay.